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City council to lobby service providers for better cell phone reception in parts of Red Deer

Even some emergency calls are failing, says councillor
A new cell phone tower is needed in east-central Red Deer, where reception is often poor and even emergency calls can cut out. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick).

A Red Deer family with a furnace fire had three emergency calls “dropped” because of poor cell phone reception, said Coun. Lawrence Lee.

Lee told city council on Monday that he was contacted by a city resident who had called 911 after a fire broke out in his furnace — and had three emergency calls cut out because of poor cell phone reception in the Garden Heights-Clearview-Timberland area.

“They were running all over the house to get service. They even went outside the home,” said Lee, who feels this situation requires council’s intervention.

Lee put forward a Notice of Motion at the Aug. 15 city council meeting, asking council to send an official letter to telecommunication providers expressing the municipal government’s concern and impatience with poor service.

The councillor feels cellular phone service is a necessity, like having good roads or electricity. Yet many neighbourhoods in east-central Red Deer have been developed more than a decade without having adequate cellular phone coverage.

On Monday, city council unanimously accepted Lee’s notice of motion, calling for the Office of the Mayor and Council to write to telecommunications providers to make them aware of the urgent need for improved cellphone service within city limits.

Council also approved Lee’s demand that city administrators bring back to council a process for planning future neighbourhoods to ensure they will have adequate telecommunication service for residents. An eight-week time frame was set.

Lee is concerned the new Evergreen neighbourhood is now being planned just north of the impacted areas. He doesn’t want new homes built where cellphone service is a problem. Yet he wondered if this is a chicken and egg situation, where telecommunications companies are waiting for a “critical mass” of residents to move into this area before investing in improvements to reception.

Konrad Dunbar, the city’s engineering services manager, said finding locations for cell phone towers is “tricky” and not as simple as putting aside some land as these chosen locations are often deemed unsuitable by telecommunications companies.

One service provider has promised a tower would be built in the area of 67th Street and 30th Avenue this fall, while another company has an application in for a separate tower, added Dunbar. Approval must first be obtained from Transport Canada/ Nav Canada, he added.

Dozens of Red Deerians are meanwhile complaining to Lee about how chronically poor reception is in Clearview, Clearview Ridge, Garden Heights, Timberlands and Timberstone.

Many residents have sent letters directly to their telecommunications asking for better service. Lee said he and other councillors have also called to complain, but several deadlines set by these private companies for service improvements have come and gone.

Mayor Ken Johnston sees many implications to poor communications — from creating a safety hazard to being an impediment to economic development and tourism. He believes city council must do what it can to “bring this item to the forefront.”

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